Started in Odessa
In the middle 1960s, Jim Chesnut was a radio/TV student at Odessa College where he was named student manager of KOCV-FM, the campus radio station. During that time, Chesnut sang and played guitar in the Dan Blocker Singers (a folk choir formerly known as the W. D. Singers and similar to the New Christy Minstrels). After completing his core courses at OC, he attended the University of Texas in Austin full-time and worked as a morning-drive DJ at KVET-AM for two years. While at KVET, Jim was inspired by Roy Clark and Tony Douglas, two country music recording artists who stopped by the station to promote new records. Within a year from having conversations with each of them, Chesnut left Austin (prior to graduating from UT) and returned to West Texas searching for personal fulfillment, which would turn out to be a career in music.
Discovered in San Angelo
At a community theater intermission performance, Jim Chesnut was “discovered” in San Angelo, Texas, in1969 by Leon Russell’s brother, Jerry Bridges, who later drove him to Los Angeles to meet Leon. Russell listened to Chesnut’s original material and encouraged him to return to Texas hone his craft in local clubs and then head to Nashville at some point.
A few weeks after his return to San Angelo, the general manager of a local country radio station, Benny Bellamy, introduced Chesnut to Mike Harrell, the innkeeper at the Holiday Inn in Carrollton, Texas, who was the first to hire Chesnut as a live music performer. It was January, 1970.
From there, he was picked up by Lance McFadden, an innkeeper of two Holiday Inns in East Texas. McFadden introduced him to Rodney Crowell who was a student at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches at the time. Jim’s first wife, Linda, was eager to get in on the action, so Rodney taught her how to play drums. The new trio played together for several months in East Texas until Rodney moved to Nashville, where he ultimately found fame and fortune.
After buying a home in Garland, Texas, Chesnut made several trips to the west coast where he met two music industry insiders willing to listen to his songs, Bob Webb (Jimmy Webb’s father) and Glen Hardin (Elvis Presley’s former piano player). Both men were very approachable and, like Leon Russell advised Jim to head to Nashville, which he later did.
On his first trip he was able to get the lay of the land, and on the second trip he left a demo recording of one of his original songs, Oklahoma Morning, at Charley Pride’s office. He was notified shortly thereafter that Pride wanted to record the song. So, he signed a single-song publishing agreement with Pride’s company, Roz-Tense Music.
Signed in Nashville
In November 1975, armed with a Charley Pride cut in his resume, Jim walked in the front door of Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. with a demo recording of ten more original songs and was given an audience. Don Powell ushered him into a conference room with studio-quality speakers and listened to half of one song.
He politely excused himself, left the room and returned with half-a-dozen music industry executives who then sat quietly while Powell rewound the tape and started it over.
After listening to all ten songs, Powell stopped the tape, and Vice President of Acuff-Rose, Ray Baker asked, “What do you want?”
Jim explained that he wanted to write and record in Nashville. A month later, in December of 1975, Jim was signed to Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. under the terms of a five-year exclusive songwriting agreement. Barely two months later, he was signed to a three-year, three-album recording contract with MGM/Hickory Records. It is important to note that Roy Acuff stepped aside to let Chesnut take his place on the five-artist MGM/Hickory roster, which included Acuff, Mickey Newbury, Don Everly, Don Gibson, and country legend, Carl Smith.
Under the same contract, Chesnut’s records were released on MGM/Hickory Records, ABC/Hickory Records, and MCA/Hickory Records all in a three-year period. In all, 14 singles were released, ten charted in Billboard Magazine’s Top-100 Country Chart, and two of those made it to the Top-40.
Because of the chart performance of the first one, Chesnut’s original Let’s Take the Time to Fall in Love Again, Billboard recognized Chesnut as one of the nation’s Top-10 up-and-coming country music artists in 1979.
So far so good, right?
When Jim first signed with Acuff-Rose Music, the global country music publishing giant had a whopping 27 percent of the Billboard chart one week. Twenty-seven out of a hundred songs were published by Acuff-Rose.
Three years later, when Jim left the company as a recording artist, Acuff-Rose had only one song in the chart, and it was Jim’s Let’s Take the Time to Fall in Love Again single. The deal with MCA had gone sour, and Jim never got to record the third album he was promised.
Just as Oklahoma Morning opened doors in Nashville, Let’s Take the Time opened them in California where Lt. Governor Mike Curb signed him to a single’s only contract with no guarantee of an album.
Within two years, under the Curb deal, one single was released on United Artists Records, and two were released on Liberty Records. They all three charted, but only the second one, Bedtime Stories, made it into the Top-40 of Billboard’s chart. The third single, The Rose Is for Today, tanked three weeks after it was released. It was his last Nashville release.
This was early 1981, and Jim would be 37 years old in December. His first marriage ended in divorce that summer, and he was racked with depression. He was also addicted to alcohol.
Moved to San Antonio
From Nashville, he moved to Austin for a while and quit drinking. In early 1982, he sang, professionally, one last time in San Antonio at the KKYX River Festival as a favor to his friend, Bill Rohde, the station’s general manager. That’s where he met Christine Walden, the station’s promotion director.
A month later, he moved from Austin to San Antonio to pursue Ms. Walden, and a few months later they were married. They still are, and he is still sober!
Chesnut is a seasoned born-in-Texas, country music entertainer who has appeared via the William Morris Agency with such greats as Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, Rodney Crowell, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, Dottie West and many, many others.
Pride even endorsed Chesnut’s first album on ABC/Hickory Records, Let Me Love You Now, in 1977 and said, “. . . My prediction is that Jim will make a big impact on the music industry.”
But despite Pride’s prediction and ten Billboard Top-100 country music singles, including two in the Top-40, that has not happened.
Chesnut began a new career in marketing communications in San Antonio and stayed away from the music industry for 26 years. However, in 2008, he began performing again, having more fun than ever, and making better music than ever.